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The Lost Notebook

by Hal Incadenza 

Posted: 26 June 2010
Word Count: 222
Summary: I've not written many stories recently, though not for want of trying. I'm trying to get back into the swing of things with some very short stories. I'm not happy with a few things in this one (particularly the 'lizard' sentence) but I think it'll be good for me to put it out there.


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I spent the summer of 2003 working my way south through Italy. I filled a notebook with stories and sketches and things picked up along the way. Like the time I lost my glasses from the window of the night train and woke in Rome to a shortsighted hangover; or the lizard in Paestum which led me to a mobile phone in the scrub, and then to others once I dialed the number for Amore.

When I bottomed out in Sicily the notebook was almost full. In Trapani I bought a boat ticket to Tunisia, that night sleeping rough in the docks still ranks highly in my list of most unpleasant experiences spent fighting off dogs and cat-sized cockroaches, the hot knife in my hand until dawn in fear of something bigger.

The dawn boat departed at noon; I finally found sleep on deck. Later I woke beneath an amethyst sky, midway between continents, and hundreds of leaves of paper lay scattered in the wake of the boat as far as the eye could see. These sheets of paper, the trail of pale geometries extending to the horizon, made me want to write a poem. I reached for my notebook. It was only then that I noticed the boy crouching beside my backpack, shedding my stories a page at a time.






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Comments by other Members



NMott at 22:56 on 26 June 2010  Report this post
Sometimes you read a short story and start to doubt the writer can pull it off, and then you get to the final few sentences and find YES HE CAN!
Very good.


- NaomiM


Roboburns at 23:52 on 26 June 2010  Report this post
I really like this! I wasn't sure where it was going at first but the final pay-off had emotional value for me: Initially, I smiled, this was quickly replaced with horror! Hope the little sod goes in after the pages.
Will.

Becca at 08:57 on 27 June 2010  Report this post
Hi Hal,
The last para is a very fine one. For a flash fiction piece there are a lot of strong images, but I think the first para needs attention to be as good as the last.

'I filled a notebook with stories and sketches and things picked up along the way.' Things picked up along the way went into the notebook? Or was this and I picked things up along the way? I think this needs clarifying, or editing out because the story is about the note book and I didn't understand what the 'things' were.
Then the next sentence starts:- Like the time I...' as if there is a sentence missing before it. I didn't understand the lizard part of this sentence at all, although I like the idea of the lizard a lot.
'...then to others once I dialed the number for Amore.' I didn't understand what 'others' were - the lizard took you to other mobiles and what's Amore?
I'm sure this is fixable, you just have to write exactly what you mean.

Funny about the M.C. losing the notebook - last night I picked up someone's notebook from the road with sketches and writing in it. It's got one phone number in it that I'm going to have to ring.
Becca.

Katerina at 09:46 on 27 June 2010  Report this post
In the lizard sentence, I think the 'others' refers to more lizards - that's how I read it anyway. I do understand the lizard sentence a bit, if you imagine seeing a lizard and tracing where it runs, then finding a mobile phone, but then I got a bit lost. Why would dialing the number for Amore lead him to more lizards - if that's what it's meant to be? I agree with Becca that you need to clarify this more.

Do you mean he phoned to find out directions for Amore?

If so, can you say something like - 'and then, once I'd got directions for Amore, I arrived and found more lizards'.

That would make it clearer.

Re the 'things' issue, maybe you could swop 'things' for 'ideas', as it would read better then. I agree that you can't fill a notebook with things, but you can fill it with ideas.

With a bit of tweaking to make it clearer for the reader, this will be a lovely snippet of a story.

Kat

NMott at 10:20 on 27 June 2010  Report this post
The first paragraph is a list of highlights of the journey, which makes the notebook valuable to the mc. The second paragraph is a little weak, as it's essentially doing the same thing as the first (highlights of the trip), as you zoom in on the character. Maybe make the middle paragraph one anecdote, rather than a string, and introduce the boy or their family, maybe in a short character sketch - maybe it's someone the character can't shake off - to link it to the final paragraph.



- NaomiM

<Added>

I like the 'bottomed out in Sicily' in the second para.

Hal Incadenza at 21:43 on 27 June 2010  Report this post
I hadn't expected so many comments and replied - wow and thanks!

Naomi breaks the story down pretty well, in terms of trying to quickly build the content of the notebook in the first paragraph before it is destroyed in the final.

'Things picked up along the way' was hopefully a play on the way one may collect scraps of conversation as well as ticket stubs or placemats. or other interesting pieces of paper.

The lizard story could be expanded, but I just want to condense it into a single sentence. Err on the side of brevity and whatnot. What happened is that a lizard led me to a mobile phone beside a dirt road. I scrolled through the numbersand decided to call the one for Amoree, who turned out to be the fiance of a young man who had come off his moped along this road a week previously and lost his phone.

I guess I could just say that...



Katerina at 22:18 on 27 June 2010  Report this post
Hi Hal,

Thanks for explaining the lizard thing which isn't what any of us thought, so I think you should explain it more clearly in the story so that readers understand, as it's quite a nice touch.

Kat



Becca at 08:37 on 28 June 2010  Report this post
Hi Hal,
When I read the story the first time and thought there was a missing sentence it was because of the punctuation error - the full stop after 'way.' '...stories and sketches and things picked up along the way. Like the time I lost my glasses...'
If you remove the full stop it makes sense.
And with the full stop edited out it helped me make more sense of 'things' - it was Kat's thought that they were ideas, that made me read it again. But even so, the word 'things' isn't working for you properly here. It could work if you roped it in, for example like this - I filled a notebook with sketches and stories about things that happened along the way like the time I lost my glasses...
This isn't me being overly pedantic, every word and its position in the sentence and every piece of punctuation matters.

But wanting to keep the lizard in one sentence doesn't do the story any favours if the reader is left abandoned. The sentence would have been even longer if you'd punctuated it correctly, but then John McGahern's first sentence in 'Swallows' is 78 words long, and takes your breath away with its beauty and construction. It isn't brevity itself that creates good writing.
Another thing is that your semicolon is telling me that the incident with the lizard is another way of talking about being hungover in Rome, because a semicolon is used when the second half of a sentence is a type of repeat of the first. So that needs editing out too.

After what you say above, I'm thinking that 'others' might mean friends. If this is what you do mean, it's fabulous - a real traveller's tale!
I reckon you could get everything in one sentence and make it clear to the reader:-
I filled a notebook with sketches and stories about things that happened along the way like the time I lost my glasses from the window of the night train and woke in Rome to a shortsighted hangover, or when I was led by a lizard in Paestum to a mobile phone in the scrub, and on dialing a number found Amore and then others who became my friends.
Becca.






Hal Incadenza at 08:44 on 28 June 2010  Report this post
Becca, thank you for such useful advice here. I'm going to try and get the contents of the notebook into a single, clear sentence.

In terms of site protocol, should one's own redrafts of a work be posted in the comments section, or uploaded as a new work altogether.?

I can't find John McGahern's 'Swallows' online, so if you have a link to hand that would be very welcome.



Becca at 12:55 on 28 June 2010  Report this post
Hi Hal,
You'd upload a new version, and mention it in the little space above. I don't know about links for McGahern, I have his collection in book form. So, here is the first sentence:
'The wind blew the stinging rain from the Gut, where earlier in the bright weather of the summer the Sergeant had sat in the tarred boat, anchored by a rope to an old Ford radiator that clung to the weeds outside the rushes, and watched taut line after taut line cut like cheesewire through the water as hooked roach after hooked roach made a last surge towards the freedom of the open lake before landing slapping on the floorboards.'
Becca.


Hal Incadenza at 12:09 on 29 June 2010  Report this post
I tried uploading a new version of this but can't, since I've already uploaded another work in the last 48 hours. Therefore I'm putting the redraft here. New title, so as to not give too much of the game away, and many of the above comments incorporated. Greater clarity with the lizard story, and I've taken out the knife. Hopefully it has improved the story.


Between Continents

I spent the summer of 2003 working my way south through Italy. Along the way I filled a notebook with sketches and stories, like the time I lost my glasses from the window of the night train and woke in Rome to a shortsighted hangover, or when a lizard in Campania led me to a phone in the scrub, which led me in turn to a clifftop party above the phosphorescent sea, and a year-long affair of the heart.

When I bottomed out in Sicily the notebook was almost full. I bought a boat ticket to Tunisia and slept rough in the docks, fighting off dogs and cat-sized cockroaches, waking to find my pockets slit and my wallet gone.

The dawn boat departed at noon; I finally rested on deck. Later I woke beneath an amethyst sky, midway between continents, and hundreds of leaves of paper lay scattered in our wake. These floating pages - a trail of pale geometries extending to the horizon - brought poems to my mind. I reached for my notebook but it had gone from my bag, and only then did I notice the boy beside my backpack, shedding my stories a page at a time and sending them spinning to the sea.


Becca at 17:15 on 05 November 2010  Report this post
Hi Tom,
congratulations on having this fine piece published.
Becca.

Indira at 19:46 on 05 November 2010  Report this post
Congratulations Tom, a sharp, strong piece!



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